The slow, steady march to Mars continued yesterday as NASA engineers tested the parachute system for Orion. A C-17 aircraft dropped the test vehicle 30,000 feet over the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground in Yuma, Arizona.

C-17 deploying Orion

C-17 drops test vehicle to test Orion parachute system in 2015.

You can see the three main chutes begin to deploy after being drawn out by three pilot chutes in the image below.

Orion parachute system

Yesterday’s parachute system test.

Wednesday’s test was a success and the final development test of the parachute system. The next step? Qualification testing for Orion missions with astronauts.

“The completion of this last development test of the parachute system gives us a high degree of confidence that we’ll be successful in certifying the system with the remaining qualification tests for flights with astronauts,” said CJ Johnson, project manager for Orion’s parachute system. “During our development series, we’ve tested all kinds of failure scenarios and extreme descent conditions to refine the design and ensure Orion’s parachutes will work in a variety of circumstances. We’ll verify the system is sound during our qualification tests.”

Of course, Orion’s parachute system is vital. Without it, astronauts wouldn’t survive reentry to Earth. 11 parachutes make up Orion’s parachute system and are deployed in a specific sequence.

The first three parachutes pull off Orion’s forward bay cover. This cover protects the other parachutes from the heat of reentering Earth’s atmosphere. Two drogues deploy to slow the capsule, and more importantly, steady it. Three pilot chutes pull out the main chutes (seen in the image above). And finally, the three densely packed main chutes unfurl and will slow the Orion capsule to 20 mph for a soft ocean splashdown.

Fly Me to Pluto

Here’s a video of a test on August 26th, 2015.

The next set of testing begins in July. Eight tests will be conducted over a three-year period to make sure the parachutes can handle flights with astronauts.

Capturing these incredible images

“I have 10 seconds to capture it, or I have nothing,” said Carla Thomas from NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. Conducting these parachute tests is difficult. But imaging them can be just as hard.

It’s not just the C-17 in the air during the tests. NASA photographers follow in planes and helicopters.

NASA photographers orion test

Oh, and you think that new lens you just bought for your DSLR is expensive? Check out this sucker.

NASA photgrapher helicopter

The images and video captured are a huge help to NASA engineers.

“We found two key issues from the video we collected from the chase aircraft, Harold Robertson, deputy for test operations for the Capsule Parachute Assembly System Project, said last year.

“One is called extraction line whip. Essentially, when extraction parachutes used to pull the test article out of the airplane, it was like someone took a jump rope and whipped it all the way back to the system’s attach points causing some minor damage to the floor of the aircraft. Video taken from chase aircraft during the airdrop testing, and the tow tests we did in December 2013 at Edwards Air Force Base, helped resolve that issue.”

Image credits: NASA

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